University of Oxford, Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 3PA
(John) Robert Liddell (13 October 1908 – 23 July 1992) was an English literary critic, biographer, novelist, travel writer and poet. The Atelier des Beaux Arts in Alexandria was co-founded by the homosexual Gaston Zananiri, whose father was a Syrian Greek Catholic, his mother a Hungarian Jew. Among his lovers were Thomas Whittemore, of the Byzantine Institute of America, and a young American dancer called Kirk Prince. Zananiri was a friend of Constantine P. Cavafy’s, and later became a friend of Lawrence Durrell. Robert Liddell believed Durrell’s Balthazar, the eponymous central character of his 1958 novel, was based on Zananiri. Liddell taught at the universities of Cairo and Alexandria between 1941 and 1951. Cavafy’s Alexandria becomes Liddell’s ‘Caesarea’ in his novel Unreal City (1952).
Liddell was born at Tunbridge Wells, England, the elder son of Major John Stewart Liddell, CMG, DSO, who served with the Royal Engineers and later worked for the Egyptian Government at Cairo, and his first wife, Anna Gertrude, daughter of E. Morgan, of Hongershall Park, Tunbridge Wells. He was a great-grandson of Sir John Liddell, KCB, Director-General of the Medical Department of the Royal Navy, and his paternal grandmother was of the gentry family of Gibson of Shalford and Sullington. Liddell's mother died in 1914; his father remarried in 1916, to Theresa, daughter of Paul Rottenburg, LL.D, of Glasgow. Poor relations developed between the two boys and their stepmother, who was the basis for the central character in Liddell's novel Stepsons. Liddell was educated at Ashdown House, East Sussex, at Haileybury School and at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. While at Oxford he met the novelist Barbara Pym. The character of Dr. Nicholas Parnell in Pym's novel Some Tame Gazelle was inspired by Liddell. During the years 1933 to 1938 he was employed at the Bodleian Library as an assistant in the Department of Western Manuscripts. Liddell then lived briefly in Athens, Greece, working as a lecturer for the British Council. During the years 1941 to 1951 he was a lecturer at the Universities of Cairo and Alexandria. During World War II he was one of the Cairo poets. From 1953 to 1972 he was employed by the University of Athens, serving for part of the time as head of the English Department. He never returned to England, and died in Athens in 1992.
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